Monday, 22 August 2011

12th Five Year Plan (2012-17): Population and Future of India

Can all the impending challenges, as noted earlier, be solved? Probably note. What is possible, however, is to make these more manageable. One area where urgent attention is required is to decelerate growth of population significantly, especially in the Four Large North Indian (FLNI) States in the wider concept of reproductive health.  

A popularly held belief is that as a country becomes economically more prosperous, its fertility declines significantly and leads to a stable population. However, this is a simplistic view of a complex phenomenon.  Since the introduction of the market-based economic reforms in 1991, India has become one of the fasted growing major economies in the world. The economic reforms have just completed  20 years in the last  July (2011), however, during this period, India’s population increased by 355 million, much more than the population of USA - the third most populous country in the world.

This raises the question: Is Development the Best Contraceptive -- or Are Contraceptives[1]?  Even 35 years after the UN supported  World Population Congress in Bucharest in 1974, development continues to be the best contraceptive, “but the matter of population stabilization is now so urgent that it can no longer be left to be dictated by comparatively slower pace of economic growth in developing countries”, as agued by Dr. Karan Singh who represented India in the Bucharest Conference”[2]. It is argued that there is a need to go beyond the prevailing notion that socio-economic development is an essential precondition for fertility transition, since it provided only a partial explanation for the monumental changes taking place in fertility behavior, especially in low-income economies (like Bangladesh, India’s immediate neighbor  and Andhra Pradesh in the country). Evidence suggests the importance of management variables as well. In recent years, these have occupied a more prominent place in explanation of fertility decline[3].
In Short, the population of India is expected to increase from  1210 million in 2011 to 1370 million (scenario B) in 2021, as per Population Reference Bureau[4]  that is in the next ten years – an increase of 13.2 per cent or by  160 million during the decade at the rate of 1.24 per cent annually As a consequence, the population density will increase from 382 to 435 persons per sq. kilometre in 2021, creating more demand for additional resources like water, food, education, health, housing, etc.  Of the net addition of 160 million people, around 46 million will be the result of unwanted/unplanned childbearing. This sort of population and development pattern has already created and will create several internal conflicts in the country.  India is   at the critical juncture because problems India has for long set aside have come to the fore and uneven population growth makes them pressing. Addressing this issue of population is the antidote to the various concerns plaguing the nation (like corruption, governance, low and order, poverty, women empowerment, etc.).  As such, the population issue should not be allowed to become a “stumbling block” to socio-economic progress as well as the unity of the country[5].
Although the resultant demographic scenario based on the provisional results of the Census of India 2011does not inspire with confidence, achieving population stabilization in near future is not impossible. By strengthening the programme being conducted in the FLNI States, the goal of replacement level fertility required to initiate the process of population stabilization could be achieved even before 2021. This does not require too much by way of resources, but reorientation of programme management. If we achieve this goal, the population of the India as per the 2051 Census will be around 1500 million. Otherwise, it will be more than 1751 million.

                                            Table1 India: Projected population and density
Population  of India ( in Million)
Population density
* Projected population, see: Population Reference Bureau PFI & PRB, 2007

There is no need to implement coercive measures or to provide incentives and disincentives. The real need is to provide services in un-served and underserved areas.  For this some innovative measures are needed.  A user friendly service delivery system can help address the causes that lie at the root of unplanned/unwanted fertility. As such, our total attention should be directed to improve the use of family planning services especially in FLNI States by adopting a pragmatic but time bound action plan. At the same time, investment in education has to be increased to improve the quality of education especially at the government schools and colleges where most of the students are from poor and rural families.

The writing is on wall. The question is not whether we act or not, but whether we act now or later and deal with much more dire and expensive consequences. What we do in the next few years especially during the period of Twelve Five Year Plan (2012-17) will determine India’s future.   India cannot afford business as usual.

[1]In the first-ever World Population Conference in Bucharest in 1974, China and India coined the slogan of "Development is the best Contraceptive", which was widely appreciated.

[2] For details, see an article by Dr. Karan Singh: Population Development and Environment, 1994.

[3] For details, see: Kothari, Devendra and S.  Krishnaswamy. 2003. “Poverty, Family Planning and Fertility vis-a vis      
  Management of Family Planning Services in India: A Case Study”. In Maria Eugenia COSIO-ZAVALA (Ed.). Poverty,   
  Fertility and Family Planning, Paris: CICRED, 335-58

[4] PFI & PRB. 2007. The Future Population of India, New Delhi: Population Foundation of India and Population Reference Bureau

[5] Kothari, Devendra. 1999.  “Likelihood of two “Nations” emerging: A dilemma for India, IIHMR UPDATE 2(1), Jaipur: Indian Institute of Health Management Research.

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